Junior Z. Mason has had himself a pretty nice stretch for the Mocs. He was selected as the Southern Conference Player of the Week last Tuesday, then added his third and fourth double-doubles of the season during his team’s recent road swing to Elon and UNCG.
The 6-5 forward, who has three double-doubles in the last four games, leads UTC in scoring (14.3 ppg), rebounding (7.5 rpg) and blocked shots (1.0 bpg). His field-goal percentage is one of the team's best (.476). He’s also one of its top threats from beyond the arc (.319).
It’s hard to ask the guy for more, but that’s exactly what his team needs.
“You’re Southern Conference Player of the Week; you had two straight double-doubles last weekend, and I’m sorry, but we need more,” UTC head coach John Shulman said. “I really appreciate your 18 and 11 (at UNCG), but I need 24 and 14. We need more.”
That’s especially the case now that point guard Dontay Hampton appears to be done for the season. Losing the fifth-year senior is a huge blow offensively, and the Mocs are looking to Mason to pick up the slack.
He knows it, too.
“He was our vocal leader, and he gave us a spark offensively," Mason said. "With him going down I feel like I need to step into that position and bring my game to the next level.”
He doesn’t just need to up his game, though. He needs to up his leadership role as well.
Not an easy task for the self-described laid back big man.
“That’s not my character, but I definitely see it’s necessary right now,” Mason said. “If that’s what needs to be done I need to accept that role and try to do what I can to fill that position. ... We have a lot of young guys that looked up to him and to all the leaders. We have to just step up and be there to fill the position that ‘Tay had — show that we can keep this thing going without him.”
Hampton underwent an MRI on Monday, but the doctor has yet to review the results. Hampton will return tomorrow morning, and should find out for sure what the prognosis is. Nobody appears to be very optimistic, though.
“I’ll say it doesn’t look good, but I can’t tell you exacts until the doctor reads the MRI,” Shulman said. “It doesn’t look good, but I’m not going to talk about it until I hear exacts.”
Sophomore Ronrico White moved back to the point in Sunday’s loss to the Spartans, and Shulman said that’s where he’ll likely stay, for now.
The 6-3, 170-pounder finished with 15 points, four rebounds and three steals in the 77-69 setback. Freshman Farad Cobb scored six points off the bench, but the 6-foot guard committed two turnovers in just seven minutes of action.
“I made (Hampton) a promise, that wasn’t going to be the last time he walked off the court in a Chattanooga uniform at Elon,” Shulman said. “We’ll figure something out, but I would say his time (playing) here is done. We need to move forward.”
SoCon North still up for grabs
The Mocs’ loss to UNC Greensboro was the team’s third straight, and it dropped them into last place in the SoCon North Division at 3-5, three games behind division-leading Elon (6-2). Samford is in second (6-4), while Appalachian State (4-4) and UNCG (4-4) are tied for third.
With 10 games left, the Mocs aren’t necessarily out of it, especially with the parity within the division. They'll need to get to work in a hurry though.
“We’ve just got to have a good week of practice, and we’ve got to quit waiting on ‘Tay," Shulman said. "Tay’s not here anymore. That’s the biggest thing. We’ve just got to get through that.”
The South isn’t quite as competitive. It appears to be a two-team race for the division title between Davidson (8-1) and College of Charleston (6-3) — the preseason favorites that dealt UTC 26- and 27-point losses, respectively. The Mocs’ upcoming opponent, Georgia Southern, defeated them both at home two weeks ago.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.